July 16, 2020

Winterport candidates offer views at forum

WINTERPORT — Three of the five candidates for the two positions on the school committee gave presentations and answered questions from the audience Thursday night at the Wagner School Candidates’ Night, sponsored by the Partners in Education.

The forum was moderated by John Logan, who introduced first-time candidates Linda Geisel, Lewis Aurelio and Martha Harris.

A fourth candidate, Joseph Watson, who was unable to attend because of a prior commitment, had Connie Lowe read a statement listing his qualifications: a teacher and former superintendent for nearly 30 years, and years of involvement in various community activities for all of his years in Winterport. The fifth candidate, incumbent Tim Moran, also was unable to attend.

Geisel, a homemaker, said the school should not be allowed to put children in a time-out room or restrain them or twist their arms around their backs. Geisel was the person who first complained about “The Box,” a time-out room in the Smith Elementary School. She also brought charges of harassment against Superintendent Richard Lyons, but the charges were found without merit by a district court judge in Bangor.

She said it was her concern about the time-out room that led to her decision to run for office.

She charged that the Maine Educational Assessment tests in the district have been declining in recent years, and she was critical of the schools’ high legal costs and administrative costs, saying the money should be going to education of the children.

Aurelio said he moved to Winterport five years ago because of the excellent educational program, but for the past few years he believed there had been a decline in the quality of education.

He said he was a former school teacher who had worked in the adult education field and works for Ellsworth Builders Supply in Camden. He has two children in Winterport Schools and he has been a school volunteer for a number of years.

Aurelio called for more communication from the school board and administration, and said he did not find the board very accountable for what it did. As a school volunteer, he said he has seldom seen board members attending school functions.

He called for more unity with Newburgh and Hampden board members, but said his primary responsibility would be to represent the people of Winterport, not the school administration.

Harris said she had attended nearly every school board meeting for the past four years. She said the current board members lack goals, they don’t listen to the constituents, and are responsible for the lack of morale at the schools.

She said the town needs a strong educational program from kindergarten through grade 12. She called for smaller class sizes, more special classes, music, art, gifted and talented programs and sports.

Last year, she said, the school board set a goal for itself of visiting each school in the district at least once during the year. That was not enough time for the board members to know what was going on, said Harris.

The candidates answered questions from the audience for nearly two hours, touching on all aspects of academics and funding.

All three candidates were in agreement that achieving a zero-based budget was unrealistic, that too much was being spent on administrative costs, and they were all opposed to additional privatization of any school services.

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